As we live out our role in God’s story we will live it in association with other people. God did not intend us to live alone. He did not intend us to grow alone nor did he intend us to work alone. Even marriage which was God’s immediate solution to the need of man for companionship and completion was intended to issue into something larger; the family. Families, as successive generations mature, increase into the extended family, and in primitive times and even yet in primitive societies, those extended families became tribes and eventually, nations.
The apostle Paul, in the verses following the verse we have been considering concerning the fact that as God’s new creation, made for the good works God has appointed that we should walk in, calls the attention of these disciples to what that means. He first points out to them what they had been. “Therefore remember…” What does he want them to remember? He wanted them to remember their former condition as Gentiles of being away from Christ and having no share in the blessedness of being a part of the people of God. He tells them to…
“…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12).
He then brings to their memory what God had done to remedy this situation. Through the cross of Christ the “dividing wall of hostility, the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” had been broken down and now both Jews and Gentiles had been brought together in Christ. This was done so “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (v. 15). He then explains this new relationship…
“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:18-19).
Among the other blessings The Pulpit Commentary says on family v. 19…
“A nearer relation to God and a higher privilege is denoted here (than that of citizen, mr). You are not guests or occasional visitors, but permanent dwellers in the house and members of the family” (Pulpit Commentary, Eph. 2:19 eSword).
This is not something that awaits us in the future. That dwelling together is something that is on-going in the here and now. This relationship is what believers are added to when they are saved (Acts 2:41, 47).
It is in the relationship of family – church, if you will – that we are faced with the greatest challenges in living a righteous life. But in spite of the fact that there are those within the family of God who would “try the patience of Job” we still are called to love them and submit ourselves to be servants to them and to all of the other brothers and sisters in the Lord.
As in every family, so in God’s family there is often wide diversity. Not every sibling looks alike. Some are tall, some are short. Some are loud, some are quiet. Some are extroverts, some are shy. Some are pleasant and cooperative and some are obnoxious and hard to get along with. Some are hard to please and some are easygoing. Some have very definite ideas of how they think things ought to be and some content with just about anything.
If we think the church should be as antiseptic as a hospital, we are laboring under a delusion. People in this relationship are human beings with all their pettiness and peccadilloes all the way up to the felony offenders one finds in humanity in general (1 Cor. 6:9-11). This picture is further complicated by the fact that many of the family members hold different opinions and preferences from other family members. How can people live together, worship together and work together with all these “problem children” in the family?
The answer for many who expect the local church to be pristine perfect is to “discipline” or withdraw from those who are too much different or pose too big of a problem. “We have to keep the church pure!” is their justification. In all too many instances this is the convenient, easy, lazy way out of what they see as a difficult situation.
As the family of God we are called not to sweep our problems with one another under a convenient “rug” of expedient “discipline,” but to the hard choices and harder work of loving and serving one another and bringing the whole family to a greater state of achievement than the quick fix ever could.
Here is how we are commanded to deal with one another …
(John 13:34 ESV) “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
(Eph 5:21 NIV) “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
(Col 3:12-13 ESV) “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
(Eph. 5:1-2) “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Notice the standard given in all these verses. Christ is the standard. We are called on to treat one another in the same way he has treated us. And how has he treated us? He accepted us. He picked us up out of the gutter of guilt, the wallow of self-pity, the slum of sin, cleaned us up, dressed us in royal robes, put the family signet on our finger and called us his brothers and sisters. So, we don’t get to set the agenda when it comes to the way we treat our brothers and sisters in God’s great big wonderful family. We had better treat them with all the love and respect they are due. That is the way Christ treats us!
This relates in a surprising way to the original mandate for the human family. God’s directive for man was to tend and develop, to care for and extend the good creation he had made for himself and the human family. While that certainly includes our responsibility of stewardship over the physical creation, the presence and promotion of the moral imperative of goodness, righteousness and justice enhances the beauty of the physical with the glory that is from God himself.
Psa 33:5 “He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”
Psalm 85:10-11 “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.”
Psalm 96:5-7 “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
“Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!”
Creation is incomplete in and of itself. It is only when the qualities mentioned here – qualities that come from God alone that are reflected and re-reflected from person to person from families and tribes and nations – that the true beauty of creation is seen.
Our mission is not just to stoically exist until that day when the Lord comes to take us all away to “mansions in the sky by and by.” Our mission is to enhance the beauty that is inherent in the creation by personifying the beauty that is God. Only man can do that for only man is made in the image of God. All else he created may bear the imprint of his workmanship but out of it all, man alone can mirror his image.
We are given families in which to do this. Families that reach out into the world bearing as best we can our understanding of what God is like. We should learn this in our fleshly families – from godly parents as they train us in the instruction and discipline of the Lord and model before us the things they are teaching us. We should have that understanding reinforced in our spiritual family by godly leaders and teachers who instruct and prepare us for the work of service, not theoretically or theologically, but practically as they themselves exemplify in their own lives how this is to be done. They should mentor those who are younger and bring them to the point they are able to teach others also.
This world should never be the same after God’s people have been in it. There should always be a radiance of the glory of God that lingers after we are gone – a memory etched on the minds and hearts – an image burned on the retinas of the minds of all who have seen us – that these were truly the people of God and that God has been seen among them. That is what the world is like after Jesus has been here. That effect is to be echoed and reechoed from mountains and valleys, from shore to city to village to the farthest reaches of the world until it swells in a mighty chorus of praise to the One who is behind it all.
Are we as God’s people making a real, lasting difference in the world? Are we adorning the world with the beauty of holiness that is a reminder and a call to all of that which God has in store for us and the whole of his creation in the future? Do people know us by our family name – the name Christian?